According to experts, nearly 10 million Americans annually are diagnosed with Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD), an increasingly common condition that dentists believe stem from problems with the jaw or temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
“This is becoming a very common condition, one that is often diagnosed as something else,” said TMD specialist Dr. Dimple Rayani of Balfour Dental in Brentwood. “And because symptoms such as neck pain and tingling in the fingers can be associated with other conditions, patients often write it off as something else. But a dentist can tell if it’s TMD.”
The TMJ is the hinge joint that connects the lower jaw to the temporal bone of the skull, located in front of the ear on each side of the head. The flexible joints allow the jaw to move, enabling individuals to talk, chew and yawn. Muscles attached to the TMJ joint control the position and movement of the jaw. So when the muscle pulls away or disconnects from the jaw, teeth get out of alignment, thereby putting excess pressure and strain on the jaw, neck muscles and head, resulting in pain ranging from mild to debilitating.
Symptoms of TMD can include headaches, jaw joint pain, clicking jaw noise, ear congestion, ringing in the ears, difficulty swallowing, clenching or teeth grinding, neck pain, posture problems and tingling of the fingertips.
Once a patient is diagnosed with TMD, the course of treatment usually includes fitting the patient’s mouth with an anatomical orthopedic splint, commonly known as an orthotic, which holds the teeth in the proper position. This orthotic is made from individual muscle activity recorded using muscle EMGs. When the symptoms decrease, permanent treatment can begin. For some, the treatment involves crowning broken teeth or applying braces. Treatment can vary according to the severity of the problem, and patients should discuss in detail with their dentist or specialist regarding the best course of action.
Patients should pay attention to their symptoms and be open to the solutions. “Sometimes the symptoms or pain that you have is not what you think it is,” said Rayani. “I had a patient who was scheduled for carpal tunnel syndrome and came to me and I saw that she had TMD. She postponed the surgery for two months and we immediately started treatment. Within a month she was seeing results, and at the end of the two months she was symptom-free and didn’t require the surgery.”
Rayani isn’t only an expert on the disorder – she’s a patient. “I can say with confidence that the treatment works,” said Rayani, who was recently diagnosed with TMD and wears braces. “I use to get terrible, debilitating migraines and now I’m symptom-free.”
And once the jaw muscles are realigned and back in position, the patient usually remains symptom free.
“The treatment is typically permanent,” said Rayani.
If you suspect you have TMD, discuss your symptoms with your dentist. And if your dentist is unfamiliar with the condition, ask for a referral to an office that specializes in TMD and treatment.
“This is not something that is learned in dental school so it’s not the dentist’s fault if they are unfamiliar,” said Rayani. “But that does make it important for patients to be vigilant and proactive with their oral health care.”
Balfour Dental is located at 100 Cortona Way, Suite 100 in Brentwood. For additional information, call 925-634-9901 or visit www.balfourdental.com.